Over the Garden Wall Series Review

over the garden wallI know I am super late in the world of animation bloggers with this post but I finally got around to seeing the Cartoon Network series Over the Garden Wall from last year and let me just say the hype is deserved.  Wow!

Created by Patrick McHale from a short he did called The Tome of the Unknown, Over the Garden Wall is a miniseries about two step-brothers who get lost in a mysterious forest world.  The only way I can think to describe it is a mixture of Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland.  It has the randomness of Alice and the journey of Wizard.

over the garden wall4For people that bemoan the state of 2D hand drawn animation this is stunning. It looks so beautiful particularly how it uses light to create layers of the forest and to show mood.  I was blown away by the animation! It’s unique and shows a lot of different styles while still keeping a consistent feel.  It is carefully done animation with little details like the lighting on Greg’s teapot hat always reflecting what’s going on or the colors and texture on Beatrice’s wings.  It’s lush, varied, and it reminded me in animation quality of Spirited Away- no small compliment!

Each episode is actually 2 10 minute shorts or chapters in the story of getting the boys Wirt (Elijah Wood) and young Greg (Collin Dean) home.   They are such well written complex characters especially Wirt.  He worries about life and doesn’t like to take risks.  He’s resentful of Greg and I think a little bit envious.  He wishes his family wasn’t a blended family and that Greg  didn’t even exist.  He wants to go back home but he is not unempowered or weak.

Greg is sweet and carefree.  He loves nature and carries around a frog that he often gives historical names too.   He is unafraid of monsters and when given the chance to lead he takes it very seriously.  A character like Greg could be grating and irritating but he’s not.  He also gives most of the humor of the show (and it can be very funny).

They have a third member of their group a blue jay named Beatrice (Melanie Lynskey) who joins the boys to try and find Adelaide a mysterious woman who will break the curse on her family and help the boys get home.  Beatrice gets irritated easily and is free with her opinion about everything.  It’s a funny juxtaposition given she’s a sweet looking bluebird without being too crass or vulgar. Her character arc has much of the heart of the series.

over the garden wall5There is a beast in the forest and a woodsman (Christopher Lloyd) as well as other magical creatures.  It can be quite scary and probably isn’t for very small children.  But the segments are short so you are never left dwelling on the scary for long.

over the garden wall10In a world where hardly anything feels new Over the Garden Wall is such a refreshing surprise.  Every episode feels like something I’ve never seen before.  It’s so creative and different and constantly surprised me.  It might be a little too random for some people but I thought that’s what made it brilliant.  You never knew what to expect.  It could be a bonfire with vegetable people or frogs on a cruise or a trip into the clouds.  Whatever it is I loved it!

over the garden wall7I love how the boys interact with each other.  It felt like 2 brothers, especially two step brothers.  I like that they never had to ‘learn’ anything and yet they did.  It’s not one of those animated shows where there is a moral at the end of every episode.  Sometimes there isn’t even a story.  It’s just the boys interacting with cool stuff (again kind of like Alice in Wonderland in that regard).

over the garden wall8 The music is also wonderful and eclectic.  Some songs are very fun like Potatoes and Molasses, others are spooky, others are very tender and heartbreaking.

I’m not sure who wrote the score but it is perfect.  It manages to feel consistent with all the eclectic stories being told.

Normally I hate when adults play children on animated shows (Simpsons being the exception) but here Elijah Wood is terrific as Wirt.  He captures a skeptical but earnest teen so well.  All the vocals are great including John Cleese, Tim Curry, Chris Isaak, Shirley Jones and more.  You can tell this was a real labor of love for all involved.

over the garden wall3People are always bemoaning the lack of originality in today’s television and movies. Indeed it feels like every day we get a new sequel, prequel, remake or adaptation.  This makes Over the Garden Wall even more of a treasure.  It’s so original in every way. I think you could watch it a thousand times and get something new each time.  Each episode is so rich with details and artistry it is definitely one I want to get on blu-ray.

Especially as lovers of animation we need to support such creative visionaries and let the Cartoon Network know such efforts are appreciated.  I would love to see a series 2 of Over the Garden Wall but I hope at least the network will continue producing such bold entertainment.

Any of you see Over the Garden Wall?  What did you think?  It’s the kind of series you want to discuss so feel free in the comments.

This shows how deep the series is.

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Most Artistic Animated Films

So on my recent post debating the merits of CG vs Hand Drawn animation I made the bold statement ‘if I made a list of the most artistic animated movies close to half would be CG’.  Well, it got me wondering and it turns out I lied.  Only 4 out of my Top 20 Most Artistic Animated Films are CG but that’s not half bad given the medium has been around way less time.

To me each of these 20 films are artistic masterpieces and stunning however they are drawn or created.  Art is completely subjective so I thought it would be kind of futile for me to try and explain what I think is beautiful or artistic.  I will just let the images speak for themselves.  If you haven’t seen any of these movies I highly recommend it.

Since again art is in the eye of the beholder please share with me your lists instead of merely critiquing mine (I mean what am I going to say ‘I think it is stunning and you don’t and there you have it).

My Top 20 Most Artistic Animated Films
20. Secret of Nimh

artistic119. Prince of Egypt

artistic218. Book of Life

artistic317. Waltz with Bashiir

artistic416. Tarzan

tarzan and jane15. Up

artistic514. Sleeping Beauty

sleeping-beauty-woods-213. Ponyo

artistic612. Alice in Wonderland

Alice-march-hare-mad-hatter11. Ratatouille

ratatouille-paris-pixar-dvdbash10. Les Triplettes de Belleville

artistic79. Lion King

artistic88. Princess Mononoke

princess mononoke7. Persepolis

persepolis26. Tale of Princess Kaguya

tale-of-princess-kaguya-15. Song of the Sea

song of the sea24. Wall-e

walle3. Spirited Away

artistic92. Bambi

bambi21. Fantasia

fantasia

Rocks in My Pockets: A Review

rocks in pockets4 One of my goals this year is to watch the hidden animated films of 2014.  I have already reviewed Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart, Wrinkles, Miniscule: the Valley of the Lost Ant, and Tale of Princess Kaguya.  I am planning on seeing Song of the Sea this weekend so look for that review to be coming.  All these smaller films have been beautifully animated with unique stories you won’t get from the major studio.  I highly recommend taking a look at the reviews and finding the film that looks the most interesting to you.

Today we are going to talk about the adult animated film Rocks in My Pockets.  This is an extremely challenging film and it is definitely not for everyone but I’m glad I saw it.

Trailer

It is the work of Latvian artist Signe Baumane and it is practically a one woman show.  She writes, directs, animates the entire film.  She even provides the narration which is problematic as she is clearly not a native English speaker and it comes off very robotic. At first I actually thought it was a computer translator not a person.

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The animated Signe

Rocks in My Pockets is the tale of Signe’s family history of mental illness.  It is done using hand drawn and paper mache stop motion.  It is brutal, disturbing, vulgar and upsetting at times.  That’s why I say it is definitely not for everyone but I also found it moving, raw, honest and beautiful in the way disturbing art can be.

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She starts with the story of her Grandmother who tried to commit suicide in a river but did not have rocks in her pockets so she failed in her attempt.  I don’t know if I’ve seen a movie that so accurately describes the panic, madness, and strange peace that happens inside the heads of those dealing with mental illness.  I have never had that serious of an incident but I have had panic attacks so I related to all her descriptions.

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In the former Soviet block nation of Latvia the psychiatrist hands out pills, mainly valium or puts the mentally ill in an insane asylum; thereby either trying to dull or hide the problem.  We have come a long way in a sense but we still have a long way to go on the stigma and treatment of mental illness in America today.

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Signe then tells the stories of 4 of her cousins and  in the most painful segment her own story of  battling schizophrenia.  Like I said it is disturbing and brutal stuff but I was strangely moved by it.  I guess it felt like someone sharing their soul through art and I appreciated that.

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The section on post partum depression was interesting. Signe says it is the ‘legitimate’ mental illness.  I never thought about it but that is really true even if it is still not treated with the weight and importance it should.  There is a very disturbing section where her Grandmother see’s a rabbit eating her own babies and she looks at her 8 children and for a second is envious of the rabbit.

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When Signe has her own baby and it is a transcendent experience for her but it doesn’t make the mania inside her go away it was a very poignant moment.  Her cousins have the same problems wanting to love desperately but feeling unable to do so.

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The animation is gorgeous and constantly daring and surprising the viewer. I loved how it moved and felt like a sketch from inside Signe’s mind.   Since all the stories are about women the female bodies are intentionally drawn in a way so they look nude despite being fully clothed (except for one scene where a back is shown). You get a feeling Signe feels naked while drawing this story and that leads to her visuals.

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With mental illness Hollywood tends to either make the sufferer scary and erratic or loveable and sweet.  Signe does none of that.  She tells their story in all its rawness yet still has great love and sympathy for the characters.  It defies every cliché you could imagine and that moved me.

It is also unafraid to talk about self harm and other destructive techniques of ‘indulging your insanity not fighting it”.  The end of the film she talks about her day to day life and how she has learned to cope with her illness finally summarizing her survival method beautifully.

“I am a working artist.  This is my work in progress.  I have to continue to live to complete it” 

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That’s not to say it is perfect because it’s not.  Signe’s narration is a huge problem.  Like I said it is robotic and very off-putting and since there is no other dialogue that is unfortunate.  I don’t know if we needed to hear about every cousin and Signe and the Grandma. It’s a 126 minute movie, pretty long by animated film standards.  I would have cut it down to 90 minutes.  As it is you leave the experience exhausted.  You are stimulated and maybe even inspired but exhausted.

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Signe also doesn’t give us any answers.  She just tells the story but maybe in a way that is the answer? “You will never  be able to walk and talk again without the yellow green and pink pills” said the doctor without giving her a diagnosis. Her sister then says ‘Maybe it’s good to tell everybody so that they know what’s in their genes…It’s in the genes. You were designed to be crazy”

Maybe we just need to let people tell their stories?

Like I said not for everyone but I was moved by it.

The score by Kristian Sensini is also extremely strong and moving.

Overall Grade- B (mainly because the narration is a big stumbling block. If they changed that to a professional actor it would get an A).

Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water Review

The Spongebob Movie Sponge Out of Water 3DI have to admit when writing this review I’m a bit stumped.  This is a really hard movie to write about without spoiling the movie. It’s just such a strange movie but I will do my best!

Let me start off with a couple of asides to this review- Spongebob Squarepants started in 1999 when I was a freshman in college, so I was definitely too old to like it as a child, and I didn’t have a TV at that time to like it as a young adult.  So, I kind of missed the Spongebob wave but had a lot of cousins and friends that loved it.  Over the years I have caught episodes and even watched the first season in its entirety and really enjoyed it, but I do not have any emotional attachment like those who grew up with it.

The other thing I want to point out is the trailers totally undersell the movie.  When I first saw the trailer my eyes rolled and I thought ‘oh boy here is another Smurf movie’.  Smurfs is one of my personal worst movies I’ve ever seen.  I hate Smurfs because they are crass, unfunny, stupid and full of constant product placement.  The trailer makes Spongebob look like it is going to be such a CG live action monstrosity like we’ve gotten over the last few years.  And the trailer is WRONG!!!!

Even the title is WRONG!!!!

It should read The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water For 1/3rd of Movie (maybe only 15-20 minutes of the movie!).  Yes, believe it or not it is only the last act that the characters are in the human world as 3D characters.  The rest looks great in hand drawn animation! It is definitely the  most hand drawn animation in a mainstream movie in a long time.

Spongebob_SquarepantsI loved the 2D hand drawn segment and when they do get to 3D it looks pretty cute, certainly better than the Smurfs.

the-spongebob-squarepants-movie-2The plot is completely wacko. And it is one that will either entertain you or make you nuts.  It’s just so weird it will not please everyone. I’ll do my best to explain it without spoilers but I really did laugh my head off.

Basically we are back at Bikini Bottom with our old absorbent, yellow, and porous friend, Spongebob (voiced by Tom Kenny of course).  As any fan of the show knows he works at the Krusty Krab flipping their famous krabby patties to the addicted patrons.  His boss is Eugene H Krabs (the great Clancy Brown) who is the type of greedy capitalist who is usually the villain in movies. spongebob_working_wallpaper_1024Their rival Sheldon J Plankton (Doug Lawrence) tries to steal the secret recipe for the krabby patties and is kind of successful but he’s not.  There is also a live action pirate mostly narrating played by Antonio Banderas.

spongebob pirateSquidward (Rodger Bumpass) works at the restaurant to his chagrin, Sandy (Carolyn Lawrence) the squirrel lives in a dome of air and Spongebob’s best friend Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) is ruled by his gut.

the-spongebob-movie-sponge-out-of-water apocolypse
Apocalyptic Bikini Bottoms.

 

They then have to go on a crazy journey to find the secret formula which involves time travel, land travel, turning into super heroes, a near sacrifice to the Krabby Patty Gods, a hilarious dolphin and more madness.

songebobThere is a cameo voice that was bizarre but hilarious I won’t give away.  It is just an anything goes approach to storytelling and I was thoroughly entertained. The script is funny and it kept surprising me along the way.

spongebob3All the voice performers were great and it was just so creative I had to smile.  It is definitely not for everyone and it was out there but I was charmed by it and it kept me engaged.

the-spongebob-movie-sponge-out-of-water-12073-largeI loved the animation throughout especially the 2D and made me laugh a lot which is what I look for in a comedy.  It’s definitely trippy and strange but I feel like that is appropriate homage to the original show.  In fact, I think some of the original team from the show worked on the movie and it shows.  It is also quickly paced so you never go more than a few seconds without some kind of gag and it looks great at the same time.  Very well done!

SpongeBob-SquarePants-Will-Get-A-New-Movie3I hope that gives you some idea of what the movie is like.  One minute you are in the future, next Spongebob is being offered up as a sacrifice, then there are battles with potatoes , a prophetic dolphin, plankton torture, and finally the live action events with Banderas.  You will just have to ask yourself if you like things that are strange and off-kelter and if you do than you will enjoy it.

If that sounds like your cup of tea give it a shot . I would love it to be successful because I think it could show Hollywood that kids still like 2D animation.  That everything doesn’t have to be CG.

It and Paddington certainly show with a good script and the right creative team anything can be good. Even a time traveling sponge with square pants. :).  This is a bright, colorful, fun, and creative movie.

At one point all of the characters are superheroes and that is charming for just long enough and then they are off to the next phase.  They get some good jabs at Marvel and other franchises out there.

super hero spongebob

I think fans of the original show will especially like it.  Seems like it hits all the nostalgia buttons while still providing something current in the 3D.

As far as content a guy on twitter told me he banned the show for innuendo so I paid attention and honestly didn’t hear anything like that.  There are some definite trippy moments that don’t make complete sense but other than that it is bright, cheerful and has a nice message about teamwork.

To all my parent friends I really don’t think you will have a terrible time at this movie with your kids.  There is definitely enough to entertain adults and kids without it being tawdry but just know it is kind of out there.

Overall Grade- B  Content Grade- A

Wrinkles: A Review

wrinkles-graphic_1

Is your greatest fear growing old and getting put in a home to wither away isolated from the world?  If you answered yes than I have the movie for you.  The Spanish animated film Wrinkles is one of the saddest movies I’ve ever seen.  That’s not a knock against it.  There is absolutely a place and even necessity for tragedies in cinema.   And I was moved by it and terrified and cried my eyes out…

Here’s the trailer.

Wrinkles has an interesting story.  It is animated using hand drawings by the Spanish artist Paco Roca.  It was released in Spain in 2011 and was nominated for an Annie in 2012  Nevertheless, it was the short list of possible Oscar nominees in 2014 because of finally getting an American cast dubbing and release in April 2014 (they certainly took their time!).  It cost only $2 million euros to make (2.2 mil dollars).  That’s astonishing when you see how lovely the animation is and even a low budget film like Secret of the Kells cost 6.5 million euros. It shows how cheaply animation can be done and achieve something beautiful.

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Wrinkles is about a man named Emilio who is put into a nursing home by his kids and given a man named Miguel as his roommate.  In the English dubbing these parts are played by Martin Sheen and Matthew Modine respectively. And basically the movie is about the deadening day to day life at the home and Emilio’s descent into Alzheimers.

wrinkles_06cMiguel is a bright light even if he cheats a few people out of money at the home.  He does everything he can to make people happy in their delusions and it is sweet to see.  For instance, there is a woman who fantasizes she is on a train to Turkey and he brings her a menthol cigarette she doesn’t light and they talk about how the journey is going.

Miguel is also very sweet with Emilio who grows paranoid as he loses one thing after another.  Emilio’s family comes to visit on Christmas (only on Christmas) and he can’t remember his grandson or why they are there.  He hates it at the home but it is where he needs to be at the moment.

wrinklesThere is a swimming pool at the home which taunts the residents who are not mobile enough to get in the water . However, it is very appealing to the younger generation putting their father in the home because ‘we remembered how you used to love to swim’.  That is the so sad…There is one triumphant scene where Emilio decides to swim anyway and it is tense and joyous and completely lovely.

The ending with a prison break from the home seemed a little far-fetched but still lovingly done.  Everything about the movie is lovingly done.  It is heartbreaking but with love and it profiles an issue we don’t want to talk about.  We want to hide it away like we hide the people away.  As someone who doesn’t have children I will probably end up in some place like that.  It’s so sad.

WRINKLES - 1There is some humor mixed in and the dialogue is very well done. Miguel gets most of the jokes and like I said he is the light in the home.

Wrinkles is definitely grown up animation but I think it is an important message for kids to learn too.  Life is still life even if they can’t remember and are hidden away.  There is 2 uses of the F word but it is pretty clean story.  It is definitely a heart breaker but in Miguel’s case there is a thin shred of hope throughout the film. I was really moved by it. Since when did every story have to be a comedy? Tragedies are important so we can absorb our own tragedies better.

It’s tough to watch but sometimes that is the most profound.

Overall Grade- A, Content Grade- B

Tale of Princess Kaguya Review

kaguya horizontal 1Lets talk some Studio Ghibli specifically their latest film The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.  Studio Ghibli if you are not aware is the Japanese animation team that has produced anime films such as Spirited Away, My Friend Tottoro, Howls Moving Castle and Princess Mononoke.  They are most known for the works by Hayao Miyazaki, the amazing artist and director.

There has been some talk of Studio Ghibli taking a break with the retirement of Miyazaki but he has talked of retirement before and then finds a reason to make another film so we will see what happens.  In the meantime there is still plenty of talent at Studio Ghibli to draw upon as can be seen by Kaguya which is directed by Isao Takahata.   By the strength of this film, I am very excited to see what Takahata has for us in the future!  (I guess Takahata directed Grave of the Fireflies which is also dark and beautiful).

This is a very different kind of movie than the Miyazaki films and honestly it is going to be a tough sell for some western audiences.  It is very slowly paced.  The only thing I can think to compare it to is maybe Bambi.  There isn’t a strong plot to Bambi but it is beautiful and it tells the tale of a deer growing up to be a prince.  Kagayu is kind of like that.

It has a very different look than other Studio Ghibli films and reminds me more of The Secret of the  Kells or Ernest and Celestine the way it uses watercolor and hand drawn animation to tell the story.  Some may have issues with the film but, nobody can deny that Kaguya looks stunning.

Take a look at the trailer.

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It tells the story of a bamboo farmer who finds a little girl in the bamboo.  It looks like a doll but he takes it home to his wife and the baby miraculously grows very quickly as it is taken care of.

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Kind of like with Bambi when you see him learning to skate or playing with Thumper, in this story you see the baby called Little Bamboo frolicking with her friends.  There are multiple scenes with babies bottoms and women breastfeeding which I guess could bother some people but I think breastfeeding is beautiful so that didn’t bother me.  You see Bamboo playing with frogs, eating melon, chasing pigs, scenes like that which are sweet but some may want more story.

breastfeeding

Little Bamboo’s father finds gold in the bamboo and great silks and kimonos and he feels this is a sign from the Gods that she is of noble birth and must be trained as such.  This leads us to the second half of the movie (it is a very long 2 hours and 17 minutes and it is slow paced so like I said some will find it boring) where Little Bamboo is trained as a lady and renamed by the naming man to be Princess Kaguya.

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This part of the movie is so Japanese and may be a tough sell for western audiences.  In Western films such as Mulan or  Little Mermaid, our heroines Mulan  and Ariel rebel against their fathers and cultural customs and find happiness.  In this film Kaguya repeatedly agrees to do as her father directs whether it is moving to the city, painting her teeth black, listening to suitors, or plucking her eyebrows .

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There is only one moment where she refuses to submit to the Emperor and be his concubine (all the suitors in the movie have multiple wives and concubines so that’s not the reason she refuses).  She has a moment of free spirit that is gorgeously drawn but in the end even the God’s force her to submit.

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This is such a different character arc than I am used to and it was challenging because it didn’t seem like she was a happy person.  She’d have glimpses of happiness but then it would be taken away from her a second later; however, I know that is because I come from a culture that see’s happiness and life very differently, so I try to learn from this culture presented and not be too judgmental of their choices.

To Western eyes the ending feels very bitter-sweet.
To Western eyes the ending feels very bitter-sweet.

Like I said I think The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a tough sell for the average American audience.  It is long.  It has minimal plot and the characters make choices that go against our modern sensibilities.  However, if you can set all that aside you are in for a treat.  It is so beautiful.  The music by Joe Hisaishi is one of the best scores I’ve ever heard.  There are whole sequences when Kaguya is running or when a character is at sea and faces a monster that are stunning.

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There is also something to be said for obedience and submitting your will to a higher power’s plan, even if it makes you temporarily unhappy . As a Christian, I certainly believe that is often the case.  There are many things I do not do which at least seem to give others pleasure because I want to be obedient.  So it does have a valuable lesson to teach.  It’s just not the independence and strong will power we value so much in Western and particularly American culture.

I’d be very curious to know what any of you think if you get to see it.  The US Dubbing is good with Mary Steenburgen, Chloe Grace Moretz, James Caan, Lucy Liu, Beau Bridges, James Marsden and others.  As with all Studio Ghibli films they manage to merge the languages so that it feels like the characters have always been speaking English.

It certainly strengthens my argument of how wonderful 2014 has been for animation because nobody can deny The Tale of Princess Kaguya is one of the most beautifully animated films of this or any other year.  It is gorgeous.  Some people will definitely have issues with pacing and character’s choices but I was able to move past those barriers and really was blown away by it.

See it in the theater if you can not only to get the most beautiful viewing experience, but to support hand drawn animation when you can because the box office is where it really counts.  DVD and blu-ray sales help but when studios are deciding whether to produce movies they look at box office sales, so if you love hand drawn animation it’s time to put your money where your mouth is like I did.  If it is not playing at a city near you (25 cities so far) than follow them on facebook and contact your local theaters.  Let them know you want to see it.

It is going to be extremely difficult to determine this year’s Best Animated Feature for the Oscars because I don’t know how you don’t include this film.  It is awe-inspiring to look at. I think either Boxtrolls or Book of Life is going to lose its spot which is a shame because they are both so inventive and great to look at. I don’t care if I’m the only one who feels this way I just love this year’s films! If Song of the Sea is as great as people say than the Oscars noms are likely to be Song of the Sea, Tale of Princess Kaguya, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Big Hero 6 and The Lego Movie. I would love to see Hisaishi get a nom for best score because it really is outstanding but it’s been a great year in that department too.  A great year for movies!

Here are some more clips if you are still trying to decide whether to see it or not.

As far as a recommendation for kids it is tough.  Certain kids will be very rambunctious throughout the film and like I said there are breasts, baby butts and talk of wives and concubines if that is a concern for parents.  Other than that there isn’t any content that would be offensive.  Nothing is scary or violent.  There are some kids who really love artistic films and sometimes it’s the adults that get antsy! I’ve seen that happen many times.

My niece who really loves Japanese culture and art I think would love it, so it just depends on the kid.  Maybe watch the trailers with them and gauge their interest? But I think it is good for kids to see challenging films on occasion and not the easy to digest but fun films mainstream Hollywood gives them. It’s good for the brain to have to work a little bit harder to appreciate what we view from time-to-time.

Overall Grade- A